Introduction Welcome to this reflection day on the theme: 'Living Life's Rollercoaster - a Marist perspective'
Recently I was on a two-month sabbatical and a highlight of my time away was l0 daysvisiting the places of our Marist origins in France. Names of places that I had heard so often in association with our founders now come alive for me: La Neyliere, Le Hermitage, Fourviere, Belley, Cerdon, La Valla, the Bugey. Two things stay with me most:
l. The incredible beauty of the French countryside. One Sunday we drove up to the top ofthe Grand Columbier, a mountain of 1,500m about � hour from Belley. They had mownan area and we had Mass to start the pastoral year - about 200 from the surrounding areawere there and you could see 130km to Mount Blanc on the Italian border in the distance,very beautiful!
2 . The leap of faith it must have taken for the early Marists to board ships and head off from their homeland to strange far-off places like Australia, New Zealand and Oceania: yet they did it and we Marists and the church in the Pacific today are the beneficiaries of their great foresight, courage and generosity.
Another highlight was doing a two-week program in London on leadership. It is someof the learning from that time, mixed with some of my own reflections, that I'd like to share with you today.
The Roller coaster I am sure each of us has experienced how life has its oscillations. At one point, I will becompletely involved in my work activity. I will be feeling on-top-of-things, well and in control. Then, for some reason, things will change: I will be aware of feeling unsure about myself, overwhelmed, troubled, afraid. Then, before long, I would be back again to feeling alive, at peace and fully functioning.
How do we make sense of these oscillations, this rollercoaster of being at a peak and thenin a trough?
I'd like to give three examples - one from ordinary life, one from the Scriptures, and onefrom the life of Jean Claude Colin.
Little Children The first comes from observing little children at play. The courage of little children canrise and fall like the tide. This cycle can take minutes or even seconds. If you watch twoyear olds walking with their mothers or playing in a playground, you will see this cycleacted out.
For a while, the children will roam freely and boldly, ignoring their mother. Then, aftera while, they use up their store of courage and confidence and run back to their mother'sside. After a moment or two, they are ready for more exploring and so they go out, thencome back, then venture out again.
The child goes from independence, playing freely, to dependence, being near her mother.The child draws courage from identifying with the safe, loving figure of her mother.Words aren't even necessary: it's being near her mother that enables the child to go backout.
The road to Emmaus The Scripture example is the story of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24,13-35). The disciples had been in Jerusalem and had discovered, experienced Jesus: 'We had hoped he was the one to redeem Israel'. But then their hopes are dashed as Jesus is arrested and crucified. They are deeply sad as they walk towards Emmaus. A bit like the children in the park, they had lost courage. Then, as we know, Jesus appears, talks with them about the Scriptures and breaks the bread with them. Suddenly they aretransformed. They hurry back to Jerusalem to share what had happened on the road, andhow they met the risen Jesus.
The demons were after me We read in Donal Kerr's book on Jean Claude Colin. the founder of the Marist Fatherson page l86:
One day towards the end of July 1823, shortly after the bishop's arrival, Colin set out forBelley. He left the presbytery of Cerdon to walk the twenty kilometres to the little townof Amberieu where he would catch the coach. It was still night. Outside Cerdon heturned off the main road to take a short-cut along an old Roman road, which locals calledLamont1e de la Coria, or Coria Ascent, for it passed through the hills of Coria towardsthe castle of Merignat. He had walked about twenty minutes from the time he left thepresbytery and had begun the ascent when suddenly he found that he could go no further.Fifteen years later he described what happened to him:
On one of the journeys I made for the Society, I felt that all the demons were after me tostop me making it. Yes, I really believe it was so. I was weighed down!... I could nothold myself up. I felt an invincible repugnance!.... After twenty minutes walking, I threwmyself on my knees in the moonlight, in the middle of the road, and I said: My God, if itis not your will, then I shall not do it. But if you want it, give me back my strength, andso show me that it is your holy will. Suddenly, I felt myself uplifted, happy, light-hearted;I went ahead like a hare...
In a state of in-needness The pattern in all three examples is the same: everyday activity, withdrawing todependence, identifying with a deep experience of love and meaning, transformation and reengaging with the world.
Each of our lives has these cycles or oscillations. We go from periods of independentactivity to periods of being nurtured and renewed; periods when we address ourselves to the problems and issues of living: working, studying, cooking, being a parent and so on, to periods when we are fed and cared for, when we relax, reflect and sleep. Similarly, for many, the week and the year provide times for more complete disengagement from the problems of living with the weekend and the annual holiday. Interestingly, a study in England showed that 80% of people live within � hour of other family members, and a high percentage also live within 8 kms of their mothers. That urge to return to the bosom of the family is very strong.
It is the natural condition of all human beings to be in a state of in-needness' - not justfor air, food and shelter, but for other human beings. This 'in-needness' compels us to reach out to others. We are relational. Human society, in all its forms: the family, the community, the church, derives from this common experience of in-needness'.
To acknowledge and be at ease Returning to the children playing in the park and going back to their mothers, it seemsto me that as Marists, part of what we are about is to be like mothers for our society as a whole.
We are to feel, think and act like Mary. Mary was ever-sensitive to the needs of others.At the wedding at Cana, it was Mary who noticed how the wine was running out and brought the plight of the couple to Jesus.
In a similar way, it can be our role as Marists to enable people to acknowledge and be atease with their 'in-needness'; to assure people that it's quite all right not to be perfect and to free them from the burden of high expectations.
Some examples We can help people to withdraw creatively from the pressures of everyday life, torediscover their trust in God, to see themselves and the world in a new way, to be recreated.
l. The ministry at St Patrick's, Church Hill, where three of our Marist branches worktogether to provide a spiritual refuge in the city: a place to pray, a place to be reconciledto God, a place to hear gentle and uplifting preaching, a place to meet others and berefreshed.
2. The Marist Brothers ministry at Mittagong where many young people experience timesof retreat and reflection, and meet with other young people who share their ideals andbeliefs;
3. or our Marist parish of Notre Dame de France in London where the community including young Marist Laityprovide lunch for about 100 homeless people each Saturday' It is not just the meal but a sense of belonging and kindness and relationship.
Christian Worship Wherever we are living and ministering as Marists, we are to do so in the gentle, lovingway of Mary, so that through our non-demanding love, God can act in the lives of others.I would like to concentrate for a moment on one particular way through which we can betransformed ie. through the liturgy, through our Christian worship.
Whenever we participate in liturgy it has that element of withdrawal from everydayactivities. For most believing people it is a weekly event: after a week engaged in the pressures of life and work, of worries and responsibilities, of successes and failures, we enter into a sacred place. Of course God is everywhere, but as the believing community, the church, we have created special places: churches and chapels: places full of symbols and images, places designed for sacred ritual, places of beauty, of sacred art and music, places to approach the mysteries of death and resurrection.
Sacred Place Recently, Fr Bernhard Kordes, a German Marist who lives at La Neyliere in France,visited Australia for our Marist Fathers Provincial Retreat. It was his first time here. After a few days I asked him for his early impressions, what had struck him so far: he said he couldn't believe how beautiful the churches were: he'd seen St Patrick's in the city, Villa Maria, Hunters Hill and St Peter Chanel, Woolwich. 'They are so clean,' he said, 'with lovely statues of the saints and beautiful stained glass'. I was surprised. Familiarity with such places of beauty can numb our sense of mystery and awe. We can easily take our surroundings in church for granted. I need to remind myself as I enter a church that I am withdrawing into a sacred place; I am entering a place of transformation, of inner change and renewal, a place of surrender.
Liturgy The liturgy itself, if we allow it, will change us. At the beginning of the Eucharist we arereconciled. We recall our sinfulness and God forgives us, on behalf of those we have offended. So, the boundaries between God and ourselves, and between each other are dissolved. We become one with each other in our reconciliation.
Then, the liturgy of the word encourages us to use our imaginations as we listen to theWord of God. The stories can evoke ideas and feelings to fill our minds with God. This God, who has worked in countless ways with different people of every age, this is the God we are being called to worship, to be at one with, so that as we identify with God, we discover our own identity. This links to what happened to the children in the park, the disciples on the road to Emmaus and Jean Claude Colin on the Coria Ascent.
Being aware that we are one as a worshipping people makes more sense of the prayersfor the Church and the world that follow. There may be no obvious relationship between all these people, but as part of the same system, namely that we are Christ's faithful, there is a universal relatedness that also includes God. We all belong. If you have experienced the Eucharist in a foreign country or a foreign language, you will know how this universal belonging feels.
Transformation The Liturgy of the Eucharist marks the highpoint of our worship. We celebrate in ritualthe dying and rising of Jesus, and we receive his body and blood in Holy Communion. Our fragmented parts are made whole, because He is in us and we are in Him. We who experience being reconciled with God in Christ are now able to reconcile within ourselves both good and bad parts, and to integrate them to become whole persons.
Thus we become 'perfect', in St Paul's sense; we are made fit for God's use in the world.
So, the power of God, working through the liturgy of the church, has transformed us andwe are liberated to re-enter the world and to seek to make the Kingdom of God real: to bring love, justice, forgiveness, goodness, peace and hope. Coming from the transforming symbolic activity of the sacraments, we emerge into the work activity of being disciples in the world. Filled with the Holy Spirit, we seek to bring God's love for others, and so foster the well-being of society and the building up of a new humanity.
The Next Time Next time we see a little two-year old run back to their mother, let us be grateful that, inGod's providence, we are able to experience the same transforming love, whatever life may bring.
Some Questions for Reflection * Do you ever feel like a little child losing courage and wanting to go back to itsmother?
lf so, how do you respond to such feelings?
* Think of a time when you have withdrawn from the pressures of life and havecome back transformed.
Who or what helped you?
* Mary at Cana saw the 'in-needness' of the newly-married couple. Where, inyour view, is the shoe biting the ordinary person in the street today?
How can we as Marists respond to that need?
* What are some of the elements of liturgy and ritual that draw you into a senseof closeness with God?